Hostile work ENVIRONMENT6 Sep, 2006 By: Ronelle Ingram imageSource
Hostile work ENVIRONMENT
Our receptionist was sobbing at her desk as I walked by. I stopped, putting a
comforting hand on her shoulder and asked, “Are you alright? Is there something
I can help you with?”
“Why are people so mean?” she sniffled. “What gives a person on the phone the
right to swear at me and call me useless? My job is to professionally answer the
telephone, not to be insulted by someone who has never met me.”
A hostile work environment can be created from external forces as well as
from within the office. Television and movies have set the tone of rudeness and
inappropriate behaviors that have become common place within our society. Polite
manners and appropriate civil speech patterns have made their way to sarcasm and
Howard Sternism. Bleatable expletives and crudeness have become commonplace.
There is a real need to foster mutual respect and personal dignity as an
extension of effective business skills. Providing parameters of acceptable
business manners for your support staff is part of management’s responsibility.
An end user whose actions disrupt and disturb the effectiveness of your staff
may not be worth the business they bring into the company. Setting guidelines
that allow your staff to be able to remove themselves from inappropriate actions
or disruptive end users can empower your workers to instantly identify and
remove themselves from a hostile work environment in the making.
Establish a complaint handling procedure within your company. Non or slow
paying customers who perpetually use bullying tactics tend to prey on the people
within the company with the least amount of decision-making authority.
Receptionists, dispatchers, accounts receivable clerks, telemarketers and other
outside salespeople usually encounter the first contact from demanding, abrasive
end users. In those cases, make sure they have one or two pre-designated people
within the company to whom they may refer overly demanding end users. Ideally,
the person making the unreasonable demands can be immediately transferred to a
customer service specialist. If the customer service guru is not available, a
message can be taken. Instruct the first contact employee to give the
dissatisfied caller the customer service specialist’s name, position within the
company, extension and time to expect a return call. Always treat the customer
with respect and professional courtesy regardless there is no reciprocity at
this time from the customer.
Providing your frontline infantry workers with a pre-established tactful way
not to have to deal with a disruptive customer that they have no authority to
remedy their concerns, maximizes their usefulness and decreases the stress level
of their work environment. It is management's responsibility to provide
non-exempt workers with the tools of freedom from workplace abuse.
Establishing a written procedure for exempt and non-exempt workers to be able
to deal with potentially abusive customers helps set a company culture of
freedom from having to worry about dealing with a hostile work environment. Each
company culture will have their own set of guidelines to deal with special need
The following is a starting point of helpful suggestions that can enable your
employers and managers to eliminate the need to comfort an employee who is very
upset due to the stress of their work environment. These Customer Service
Guidelines can also be used as part of your interviewing process. Explaining to
a potential hire that the culture of your company is extremely proactive towards
their employees makes a strong first impression.
- Customer Service Guidelines
Start each conversation with an upset caller by clearly stating your name,
position and telephone extension. This establishes your ability to help set a
tone of confidence and authority.
- Ask for caller’s name, company, invoice number or equipment serial number,
etc. if you do not already have this information. Confirming information with
the customer proves you are organized and prepared.
- Always address the person by name followed by a neutral greeting of “How
can I help you?” Even “Thank you for taking the time to allow us to help
rectify your situation.”
- Listen, listen, listen some more to indicate you are concerned about their
problem. By allowing the customer to vent their frustrations you can help
difuse the hostile situation. It also provides more time to assess the
caller’s level of need.
- Whatever the upset caller says, always respond with sentiments of empathy.
“I understand your concern” or “I'm sorry this has upset you” or “Please
accept my apology” goes a long way. Confirm their feelings without making
judgment or promises. These positive statements usually change the tone of the
- If you realize a problem has occurred, take responsibility and encourage a
solution. When your company’s in error, ask the caller how they would like the
- Clients will actually ask for less than you are willing to offer. Prorate,
credits, discounts or offers to correct the situation are preferable to giving
their money back. It’s always easier to increase negotiated offers than to
take back that which had already been offered.
- Asking for additional time to investigate a situation is acceptable as
long as you give a specific time for a return call or emailed response. Ask
the customer how they would like to be contacted in the future: phone, email
- When you see a problem in the making contact the client before they have a
chance to call you. Being proactive usually takes the pressure off the
- Toward the end of the conversation summarize the problem, the actions
which you will take, and the appropriate response time to complete the agreed
- End each conversation by restating your name and telephone number. Thank
the caller for taking the time and effort to help you correct the situation.
Once the situation has been rectified, follow-up with an email or mailed note
with your contact information or business card. The mailed card is very
effective in establishing you as the go-to person for any future needs,
allowing you to be seen as the client’s advocate.
Now you’ve established a good customer/client rapport. The next time they
need to order something or get sales information they will call you personally.
Being a knowledgeable, professional person establishes an open line of
communication and helps put a positive spin on those customers who will call
with a problem to be resolved. The upset customer that has been treated properly
becomes your best candidate to retain as a lifelong business partner for your
company. They are your best prospects for long-term profitable relationships.
Instead of alienating a customer or having an employee react to a hostile
work environment, an active customer service procedure policy can eliminate
stress in the workplace as well as generate loyal clients who will continue to
increase your company’s profit margins.